The breakability issues in the game are very impressive. Can you talk us through the process of implementing this and the problems you face when creating interactive scenery?
The breakability process starts in the game design department. They define which assets need to be breakable or bendable. During the production of Crysis 2 we had a level that contained all non-level specific props like trash bins, benches, air vents and other generic objects that was used to review these assets regarding breakability.
We then went through the individual levels themselves and defined the Action Bubbles in Crysis 2 that would benefit from breakability on any level-specific assets like the Grand Central Terminal asset only existing in one level.
We used this information to create a list of all assets that needed to be breakable and prioritized these assets based on their usage in the level. Things like cover objects that were used everywhere got a higher priority than assets that were only used once in the game. After that the assets were outsourced to the Crytek Kiev studio that had a dedicated group of five artists to only work on breakability. They cut up the meshes and sent them back to Frankfurt where I reviewed them and implemented the technical setup. If everything worked fine the meshes got implemented into the game.
The main problems we ran into were performance problems and missing technical features in our breakability pipeline. We had to reduce the number of pieces on some breakable assets since performance can drop significantly if all pieces are broken at once - imagine a grenade exploding in front of several pillars that are all breakable.
Other issues were visual glitches in the level of detail meshes or gameplay-relevant problems. How does the AI recognize when an object is broken; how does cover height get influenced by breakability; how many shots does it take to break a piece; which weapons can break a piece?
We came up with solutions for all of these issues, which proved a challenging process, requiring lots of work from all the departments concerned.
What do you feel are the most important elements to working as an environment artist and what are the most challenging things about the job?
Environment artists need both great artistic skills and a deep technical knowledge about the engine they work with. Understanding proportions,architecture and color theory are just as important as the technical aspects like the modularity or performance of your scene.
Being able to look at a concept painting and capture the essential features of the scene whilst understanding how to build it using the least amount of modules and textures is the most important skill an environment artist needs to learn.
The most challenging part of the job is usually working with the game designers or other departments and implementing their design ideas into your model, especially when it is based on a real-world environment. It can become quite tricky to implement certain gameplay metrics like cover heights or jump distances into your model without sacrificing visual quality.